Be ready to fall for Granada, a city in the Andalusia region in the south of Spain.
This is a city that does not need to boast of its indescribable beauty or dramatic history for you will discover them eventually, through this list of 15 things to do in Granada:
Situated at the foot of Europe’s second highest mountain range, Sierra Nevada, this city is a Moorish gem. With influences of Moorish architecture spread across the city, it exudes a magical feeling so profound that reliving its glorious past through imagination is inevitable.
1. Linger with the ancient spirits in the Alhambra
Overlooking the city, the Alhambra, which means “red castle” in the Arabic language, is a palace-fortress complex laced with a dramatic history. This palace was built in the 14th century, during the Nasrid Dynasty; the longest Islamic reign in the then Iberian settlement. This complex weathered the hands of time through wars, earthquakes, and reformations when it fell into various hands after the Moors had been besieged. In the 18th and part of the 19th century, this complex faced neglect, becoming home to beggars and thieves. Then, through the 20th century, it was restored to maintain its historical legacy for the eyes of the world.
In the Nasrid Palace, let your intuitive emotional response consume you as you marvel at the lavish decoration of the modest rooms. Be impressed by the intricate tiles arranged geometrically and enhancing its architectural splendor. The carved stucco motifs, elegant Arabic calligraphy on its walls, and beautiful honeycomb-like structures spread on pillars add to its grandeur. The Generalife section will breathe life into you through its lush greenery.
Since the number of visitors to the Alhambra is restricted to a certain number per day, it is advisable to book tickets to the Alhambra way in advance, as early as 90 days, especially during the summer. And for the visit to the Nasrid Palace, be sure to follow the timing printed on your ticket if you do not want to miss out on the main highlight of the Alhambra.
Admission price for the general ticket: 14 EUR (approximately 16 USD).
Click here for more information on the various tickets and timings.
2. Wander and get lost in the Albaicin
Get lost in the old Moorish quarter as you wander through its labyrinth. Walk along the narrow cobbled-streets with traditional Arabic whitewashed houses that look like small castles, towering over the streets. This is a quarter that promises you surprises. As you wind through the mesmerizing maze, you will be clueless as what to expect around each corner. Expect to suddenly step into a square buzzing with locals hanging out beckoning you to join them or into a plaza where a sleepy market thrives. Turn a corner and maybe chance upon children trying out at being entrepreneurs, selling lemonade to the thirsty passers-by. What is life if it isn’t full or surprises? Be sure to look out for the well-preserved Moorish cisterns known as aljibes as you explore the quarter. These cisterns are valuable gems in defining part of its history.
3. Get the best vantage point of Granada from the Ermita De San Miguel Alto
Go through Albaicin to the top of the neighborhood and keep walking until the top of a small hill next to the city. The hike will take up to approximately 15 minutes on foot. Bus and taxi services are also at your disposal. There, on the hill, you’ll find a small charming church by the name of Ermita de San Miguel. It offers you unparalleled views of the city, with the Alhambra, standing tall within the landscape. Go to the back of the church to be taken to another world, where views of the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada await. Depending on the time of year, expect to catch a glimpse of its snow-capped peaks. Simply breathtaking.
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4. Catch a rare glimpse of the life of a gypsy on the hillside of Sacromonte
To the right of the Albaicin, you will find the neighborhood of Sacromonte in the Valparaiso Hills. For many centuries, it has been populated by the gypsy community. What is unique about this city is that in the ancient past, caves were cut into the hillside to serve as homes. The result is beautiful. Thus, walking through Sacromonte is like slipping into another imaginary land, somewhat like the one in the movie, “The Hobbit”. Take a walk along the main street, Camino del Sacromonte and pass by caves that now serve mostly as restaurants and bars. At night, the strumming of the flamenco guitar, the melody of rich beautiful voices, and passionate flamenco dancing fill the caves. It is a must to catch the famous Gitano Flamenco dance known as Zambra. It is a flamenco dance with influences from Moorish dance with the infusion of belly dancing. For those who would like a more detailed insight into the past lives of the cave-dwellers, visit the museum, Museo de las Cueras del Sacromonte. If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous and would love to meet nomads, walk further uphill where you will find abandoned caves inhabited by nomads from different parts of the world, passing through before they move on to their next leg of journey.
5. Experience tapas like the locals
How do we know if a particular tapas bar is an authentic and good one? The simple rule of thumb here would be if it is teeming with locals, then you’re spot on! An example of such a bar is Los Diamantes. This tapas bar wins the tag for the best local bar offering not just fresh and tasty tapas, but also a typical bustling ambiance. Do not be intimidated by the crowd. Weave your way through to the counter, order a caña (a small glass of beer) and you will be served a free plate of tapas. Yes, you heard it right, generosity at its best! Regardless, let your eyes feast on the menu and order more tapas if your stomach still has room as their great selection of fresh seafood tapas is definitely not to be missed. The dishes are succulent up to the very last bite! Simply a great bar to people-watch, enjoy the authenticity of dining in Granada both for its quality and setting.
Price for a beer: 2 EUR (approximately 3 USD).
Address: Calle Navas, 26, Granada, Spain
6. Soak in Arab baths in an ancient Moorish Style
Relive the past of the social activity of the ancient Moors by soaking in a hammam (Arab bath) on the very site of the ruins of the old hammam at the foot of the Alhambra. After a day of exploration, head to the Hammam Al Ándalus to rejuvenate your senses. Start by sipping the mint tea prepared for you, followed by a dip in the thermal bath. As you soak in the hammam, take in the Arabian interior, which successfully captures the splendor of its past, adding to the dreaminess of the setting and enhancing relaxation. Let the whole setting take you back in time to the 14th century as you imagine the Moors soaking in the exact kind of bath, talking and relaxing after a tiring day. After soaking in the baths, it’s time to further invigorate your senses in the steam room, and finally, let the massage ease you into optimum relaxation. For those needing an extensive pamper, an exfoliating body scrub is available as well.
Price of packages starts from 28 EUR (approximately 32 USD).
Address: Calle Santa Ana , 16, 18009 Granada
7. Watch sunset as music and flamenco dance welcome the night sky at Mirador de San Nicolas
A raised plaza in front of San Nicolas Church offers 360-degree view of Granada and the mountain range, Sierra Nevada. This is a site that is popular for sunset views and for the lively atmosphere. You can take the time to just laze in the plaza or bask in the sun’s rays as you take in the indescribable beauty of Granada. The viewpoint is so picturesque that it is popularly illustrated in many paintings and postcards of Granada. The locals set up small stores on the pavements of the plaza, selling crafts and souvenirs. Flamenco dancers and singers entertain visitors and they take in the sights, welcoming the night as the sun disappears.
8. Take a bus to Sierra Nevada to hike, cycle, or ski
Take a one-hour bus ride to Europe’s second highest mountain range, Sierra Nevada, for ceaseless activities regardless of which time of year it is. You can purchase the tickets from Granada Bus Station. Sierra Nevada was designated a National Park in 1998 for its extensive range of biodiversity. However, this park is not just about its flora and fauna or the endless activities it offers, such as hiking, mountain-biking, and skiing; it also has a rich history, with the legacies of various ancient dynasties having left their mark, from the irrigation system to the design of houses. This is also a site where the Moors last took their refuge before being forced out of Spain.
Price of return bus ticket: 9 EUR (approximately 11 USD).
9. Be dazzled by the opulence of gold in the Basilica de San Juan De Dios
This is a stunning church dedicated to Saint John of God, who devoted his life caring for the sick and homeless. As you step into the main church, you will be dazzled by the amount of gold present. On the ceiling, walls, and side altars, all this gold is dedicated to Saint John of God. The interior of the church is designed such that it allows for admiration from afar and up-close inspection, so don’t worry about missing out on anything. This church is undeniably one of the most beautiful in the whole of Spain and, therefore, the most beautiful in Granada. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to witness a wedding ceremony in this very chapel. So let’s keep our fingers crossed!
Admission Price: 5 EUR with audio (approximately 6 USD).
Address: Calle San Juan de Dios, 15, 18001 Granada, Spain
10. Shop and stroll along one of Granada's oldest streets, Carrera Del Darro
Take a scenic walk along the River Darro, which was once considered the heartbeat of Granada. As you walk along, to the left, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the magnificent Alhambra. On your right, buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th century remain. There are even several Arab houses that remain, which add to the legacy left by the Moors. Stores, bars, and restaurants spill onto the streets, spoiling you for choice. At some point, you will come across two stone bridges that link Carrera Del Darro with the neighborhood of Churra, which is at the foot of the Alhambra complex. A short detour definitely sounds enticing!
11. Cycle on the outskirts of Granada
An extension to exploring Granada would be exploring its outskirts. There are several bicycle tour companies who organize this option, apart from cycling within Granada. What is satisfying about cycling on the outskirts of Granada is that you get to work those muscles, take in more sights and sounds, chance upon more historical gems, and get a vantage point of everything that makes up Granada. An example of such a destination would be cycling up to the Silla del Moro Viewpoint. It is an ancient site where a castle was built to protect the Generalife of the Alhambra complex.
12. Visit Granada Cathedral
In the city center you will find Granada Cathedral, full of Christian heritage, dedicated to the Son of God in Mary’s womb. After the Nasrid Kingdom fell, the first foundation of the cathedral was set on the site of the city’s main mosque. Over time, a few architectural masters contributed their ideas and works, creating this charming cathedral of impressive façades and stunning interior, infusing elements from Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. It is said that this church took 181 years to be built, evolving through the different eras of the past, as is illustrated by its architecture.
Entrance Fee: 4 EUR (approximately 3 USD).
Address: Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5, 18001 Granada, Spain
13. Go wild with Granada's night scene
Apart from being known as a Moorish jewel in the south of Spain, Granada is also known for its night and music scene. This city is teeming with university students, and so has a youthful and vibrant atmosphere, with the students looking for entertainment every chance they get! The night scene is wild and busy! In Spain, do note that partying usually does not start until after midnight, so pace yourself. The last thing you want is to end the night before the party has even really started.
There are several barrios that really come to life at night. Go somewhere where the locals mostly go, such as El Centro and El Albaicin. El Realejo offers bars and clubs too, but the locals consider the barrio to cater more to tourists. With regards to music, there is a broad range of genres available. From rock, indie, metal, and latin, to dub, reggae, blues, pop and electro, the music is certainly diverse. For those who are looking for the cheapest and wildest night, head to Pedro Antonio de Alarcon. Drinks in the bars there are cheap and there are several chupiterias, where you can have shots for really low price. You can even find some as low as 1 EUR (1.12 USD), like in Chupiteria 69.
14. Give yourself a sweet treat with Piononos de Santa Fe
This bite-sized pastry leaves you wanting more after the explosion of sweet flavor in your mouth from the first bite. This pastry originates from the small town of Santa Fe, next to Granada. Word has it that it was given its name in honor of the 19th century Pope, Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono). A small cylindrical pastry, shaped like a papal cloth, it is fermented with syrup and rum, which gives it its fine taste and texture. It is then topped with toasted cream in a mitre-like shape. It really is a pastry of excellence! You can find several cafes along the streets in Granada specializing in this pastry. For the best ones, head down to Rey Fernando cafe, located on the street of Reyes Catolicos, famous among the locals.
15. Spice things up at the Arab Spice Market at La Alcaicería
La Alcaicería is an unexpected sleek number. It is a series of streets situated between Plaza Nueva and Plaza Bib-Rambla where a great bazaar worth your time and dime awaits. A tapestry of colors fills the streets, making sure that you are totally in sync with the bright and vibrant mood of the surroundings. In this market, you will feel as though you’ve been teleported into another part of the world, a magic that Granada is so capable of. Take hours to browse through the dry goods, spices, silks, clothes, and other buys that many would consider exotic.
Head to Granada for a sense of revival through its past
Delight in the compelling history, elegant architecture, and charming demeanor of Granada. No other Spanish cities can equal Granada. This city is not just a destination, but an experience through time. If Granada is not on your list of travels yet, then now is the time to start planning your trip to this charming city and take your traveling to another level … a magical one!
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